I’ve been meeting with and talking to many cancer survivors lately. It’s inspiring and confidence building to speak directly with people that have gone through the fire. But as I hear more success stories I’m left with mixed emotions. There’s an obvious bias at play in that I’m hearing from and talking to survivors and successful cases. At times the disease can seem almost like a mundane abstraction since it seems so curable. Something that later will all seem as a bad dream.
It reminds me of a well known WWII story in which the British military is trying to save pilot lives. They specifically wanted to know where to reinforce their war planes to protect them from German anti-aircraft fire. The data clearly showed gunshot holes littering the wings of returning bombers. The military wanted to armor the wings. But the statistician Abraham Wald when given the data instead asked a better question, roughly: returning planes can survive holes in the wings. Why don’t planes with holes in the fuselage return? Those planes are not represented in the data suggesting they don’t survive. Wings do not need more armor since they survive the gunshots. He counter-intuitively recommended reinforcing the areas that were not represented in the data – a great example of survivorship bias.
I haven’t been looking for those narratives of unsuccessful battles, from those souls who didn’t return, who didn’t survive. The tendency is to look away. I prefer instead to forge the strongest character possible from this crucible of disease. It’s odd to explain but I find myself often oscillating mentally between success stories and the normal day-to-day existence that is life with kids, and the crushing weight of knowing I have CANCER. I notice this oscillation happening multiple times per day, lightness vs. weight. It’s disorienting but I’m getting better at maintaining my equilibrium within the turbulence.
I want to look towards instead of away.
The truth is I’m also prepping for another battle, the one that comes after cancer ( not if, when!). That is the battle of living a purposeful life, every day. How do I leverage this experience to live the most purposeful, meaningful life possible? No, I don’t want this to be a distant memory. I want this to be a reminder so I make better decisions. I find myself stripping things down to the studs, the essentials values, like packing a rocket ship. I suppose this blog is an attempt to create that reference document.
Chemo round 2 – tomorrow.